One of Dad’s milk customers asked Dad if he’d like to pasture their pony for the summer; they would bring their children out to ride at our farm, and my brother and I could ride any time we wanted to. "Happy" was a beautiful brown-and-white Shetland - and stubborn. We enjoyed him but were too young to manage him without Dad. I liked riding our gentle three-gaited mule for short trips around the barn lot and the yard with no saddle or blanket or anything except a simple bridle. In other words, I knew absolutely nothing about ponies, mules or horses!
In 1935 I was a senior at the university, and I was also employed at Christian College to teach swimming four afternoons each week. At enrollment time I learned that many students took something I called "horseback riding," but the instructor called it "equitation." Students paid a hefty fee for instruction, and some brought their own horses and paid for their keep.
Caroline Drew was nationally known for her work with horses. She was known in town as "that woman who dresses like a man." Part of learning to ride well was to know horses, tack, pastures and grain, care of hooves, how to bathe a horse - everything!
Recently I’ve read a new, 500-page book, "Missouri Horses: Gift To A Nation, Vol. I," by Joan Sewell Gilbert. I had no idea how many different breeds of horses are popular in our state and how different the breeds are. Gilbert writes, for one thing, about the "Greatest Horse Show in History" - the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, which was open to all breeds from any place on Earth. In spite of terrible weather and many cancellations, 2,495 horses competed - 4,000 had been entered - and prize money went to 20 states and six foreign countries.
Sketches by artist Adele Graham bring the realities of early travel and home life into our modern reading rooms. For example: 16-year-old Olive Van Bibber Boone’s diary reviews her wedding trip from the state of Virginia to near St. Louis. It included a daring crossing of the Missouri River at St. Charles. Nathan, age 18, rented a skiff and rowed it while Olive controlled the three horses by their bridles with one hand and controlled the skiff with the other hand on the boat’s tiller. She said it was "quite a perilous trip for such a young couple."
Here are some comments of interest to Mid Missouri horsemen:
● "Daughters of professional trainers R.P. Glenn and Tony Palmer said that any horse with Charles Reade’s blood was worth buying."
● "Mexico is to Missouri what Lexington is to Kentucky."
● "Tom Bass is the only horse trainer whose portrait bust is displayed in the state capitol." "
● "Stonewall King won his first two classes ... and at an early show ... winning every class a five-gaited horse could enter."
Author Joan Gilbert has written for "Saddle and Bridle Magazine" for many years. Her books include "The Trail of Tears," "Missouri Ghosts" and "More Missouri Ghosts."